MIAMI – For Rudolph Crew, constant demands and unpredictability come with the job.
On a recent Friday, as multiple TVs throughout the Miami-Dade schools superintendent’s outer suite broadcasted, a student protest-turned melee had broken out at Miami Edison Senior High School, postponing a scheduled newspaper interview.
The South Florida Times caught up with Crew at a March 1 afternoon book signing at the Afro-in Books and Café in Liberty City, where he was promoting his book, Only Connect: The Way to Save Our Schools, a tome on reforming the country’s educational system.
The jazz-loving, well-connected educator (Bill Cosby endorsed his book) believes staunchly that all children can be educated, and that the adults in children’s lives play a vital role in making it happen.
“When I look at kids who drop out of school versus kids who do not, it’s because fundamentally those who have a series, not just one, but a series of meaningful, loving, firm and caring adult relationships, they make it,” the father of four asserted, adding, “The
others have to try to figure it out along the way.”
The American Association of School Administrators – the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders across the United States – apparently approves of Crew’s philosophy. In February the organization bestowed its top prize upon the former teacher who became a principal at the ripe old age of 24, and a deputy superintendent less than ten years later.
As the group’s national superintendent of the year, Crew is entitled to present a $10,000 college scholarship to a student at Arlington High School in LaGrange, N.Y., a Poughkeepsie suburb, from which he graduated.
In its selection process for the award, the AASA credited Crew with “making significant changes in the learning environment in the 339,554-student Dade County system.”
The organization emphasized his creation of the school improvement zone that targets the 39 Miami schools marked historically by poor performance – an initiative that places experienced veteran teachers in historically low performing schools and pays them higher salaries for working longer hours and longer school years.
Crew said he believes that all parents, regardless of their income or education level, can champion a positive learning environment for their children.
“You don’t have to have a lot of money to turn the television off to give your kid a chance to do their homework. You don’t have to have a lot of money, or even know how to read yourself to be able to make sure that your child is sitting and doing a reasonable amount of work with respect to their preparation for the next day. These are attitudes, these aren’t money things, it doesn’t cost anything to do that,” he said.
T. Willard Fair, chairman of Florida’s State Board of Education, said “Given all he [Crew] has been able to accomplish in his short tenure here, the award was not given, it was earned.”
Crew credits his single father (his mother died when he was two) with nurturing his determination and can-do spirit.
Eugene Crew, a former jazz musician, greeted his son each morning with “Rudy, time to get up. Sun’s coming up and something good is gonna happen today.”
After graduating from Arlington High School, Crew earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in management from Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. He earned his Master of Education degree in urban education and his doctor of education degree in educational administration from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
At 57, Crew is superintendent of the fourth largest school system in the country, coming to Miami from New York (the largest) where he served as chancellor from 2000 to 2004. He said upon his arrival in Miami nearly four years ago that he was most shocked to find how distinct and separate the area’s ethnic groups are.
“We all spend our time in our respective neutral corners being angry about one thing or another, historically or current,” he noted.
Larry Capp is familiar with Miami’s multi-ethnic challenges as head of the Community Relations Board, and said the city should support Crew.
“Dr. Crew is incredible, and Miami-Dade County is truly fortunate to have him here as our school superintendent,” said Capp, who co-owns Afro-in Books and Café with his daughter, Jamila.
Capp said the way the state funds education hampers Crew’s efforts.
“Unfortunately we live in a state that seems to be fighting to be 49th out of 50th in terms of per capita spending for education,” Capp added.
Crew is also mindful of budgetary concerns when it comes to sustaining many of his initiatives that are “beginning to click for children.”
While he acknowledges that the district is “still in a pretty fragile spot,” he laments the prospect of losing any progress due to funding shortages.
“The saddest part of what’s happening is the budget will force you to start disassembling those things,” he said.
Lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session could slash between $125 million and $500 million from the state’s education budget, prompting Crew to tell the school board recently that the cuts could force him to lay off school employees.
When asked to identify his most significant accomplishment, Crew quickly spreads the credit to his team.
“I don’t really think about what I’ve done individually. As a team, we’ve all really put our shoulder to the wheel and pushed it really hard,” he said.
Elaborating on the team’s effort to reform Miami-Dade’s troubled school system, Crew added, “The biggest accomplishment
…has been that we scaled the mountain of disbelief …and we made believers out of people.”
Crew is aware that not everyone is pleased with his performance, but takes it in stride.
“I’m sure that there are some people who say [as you scaled the mountain] you broke some things along the way. That’s probably true,” he conceded.
One of those people is constant Crew critic and school board member Marta Perez, who lost a lawsuit against the superintendent in which she accused him of rejecting four of her proposed items from the agenda of a December 2006 school board meeting.
Perez did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Perez has given Crew zero credit for making progress in Miami-Dade County schools.
Perez told the Miami New Times that, “Many of these programs [mentioned in the book] were already being done by the district before he was hired. He just renamed, repackaged, and remarketed them.”
Crew’s supporters beg to differ, some of whom are his employees.
Adrienne Wright-Mullings is the principal of Cutler Ridge elementary school and Jamela Patton is the assistant superintendent of special projects. Both women attended the book signing on March 1.
Patton said, “You can’t work for a more dynamic person. He’s the best we’ve ever had and ever will have. I think the world of him.”
Wright-Mullings said she attended the event to “get an understanding of what our fearless leader is trying to get us to do at our schools and also to congratulate him on his accomplishments.”
Photo by Sumner Hutcheson III. Miami-Dade schools superintendent Rudy Crew addresses the audience during a book signing at Afro-in Books and Café in Liberty City.